I’m currently writing an article on the Zero Boys in celebration of their upcoming catalogue re-issue, which I’m looking forward to posting soon. It’s gotten me to thinking about hardcore more than usual. I recently engaged in an interesting exchange in the comments section of my recent blog post “some random thoughts…” Somehow the subject of Michael Jackson came up. Thus far I’ve generated essentially zero support from my assertion that MJ is a great artist and an important cultural figure - something I believe without shame or reservation.
It made me think about the early 80s, when Michael Jackson ruled the charts and airwaves. I listened almost exclusively to punk and hardcore in those days. Freda, my high school girlfriend, and I kept our shared appreciation of Michael Jackson and Prince very much under wraps among our group of friends, who would not have been very understanding. I also kept pretty quiet about loving Bruce Springsteen, though honestly my peak live music experience from 1984 – a year in which I played and attended many punk shows – was seeing Bruce in Chicago on the Born in the U.S.A. tour. Oh, and we also privately dug Madonna - it came as a relief when the likes of Mike Watt and Sonic Youth professed their love for Madge.
I remember briefly questioning my lifelong love of the Beatles and Stones due to the Zero Boys’ “Livin’ in the 80s” (lyric: “I don’t remember the Beatles/I don’t like the Stones”), eventually deciding that I could appreciate the sentiment without accepting it as dogma. I chuckled to myself when I first recorded with Paul Mahern in the late 80s. He kept two discs close at hand for sonic reference and constant appreciation: The White Album and Exile on Main Street.
Nevertheless, there were a handful of non-punk artists that were universally approved in our scene. Here are the ones I remember:
1. The Psychedelic Furs: I’m not sure what the deal was with this. Someone went public with their appreciation (maybe Wes Burton?) and everybody followed suit. I remember going to the ’83 concert at the I.U. Auditorium en masse.
2. Pink Floyd (especially Dark Side of the Moon): approved stoner music. One punk who shall remain nameless used to try to get everyone at parties to take a big bong hit and then lie on the floor in the dark to hear the album. Hilarious.
3. Johnny Cash: I think this started with Jack Whitebread, then k/a Rat Rondell. There’s some funny discussion of The Man in Black in one of the Tussin’ Up issues.
4. The Stray Cats: as a fledgling guitarist, I couldn't resist this band. But I remember it being totally okay to dig them, even though they were ultra-mainstream. 80s 50s was so much more awesome than 70s 50s (e.g. Sha Na Na), right?
I know there were others, but I’m drawing a blank. Of course there were all sorts of artists that evolved from hardcore, such as The Minutemen, Husker Du, Meat Puppets, Replacements, Butthole Surfers, etc. etc. that were accepted. But I’m more interested in the stuff that was totally outside of hardcore.
In the “Random Thoughts” comments, I also mentioned that I believe there are a handful of classic first-generation hardcore records and a lot of forgettable albums. I thought I’d take a crack at naming the hardcore records that I consider timeless classics. I’m limiting this to American punk/HC releases from between 1979 and 1984, no first generation artists, and it’s off the top of my head. Some of these artists had several albums that could be on the list, so I picked the one that I think is best. No compilations. In no particular order:
Bad Brains: Rock for Light
Black Flag: Damaged
Descendants: Milo Goes to College
Zero Boys: Vicious Circle
Minor Threat: Discography
Angry Samoans: Back from Samoa
The Germs: GI
X: Los Angeles
Husker Du: Zen Arcade
Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime
Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
Bad Religion: How Could Hell Be Any Worse?
Fear: The Record
Negative Approach: EP
Replacements: Sorry Ma (I prefer Let It Be and Hootenanny from the era, but I don’t consider them punk records).
Misfits: Walk Among Us
Circle Jerks: Group Sex
Social Distortion: Mommy’s Little Monster
Agent Orange: Living in Darkness
Flipper: Generic Flipper
The Dicks: Kill From the Heart
Help me out – what am I forgetting?